Washington State Bill To Decriminalize Marijuana Would Save Millions

By chillinwill · Feb 11, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    Three representatives introduced a bill in the state house this morning that would reduce the penalty for marijuana possession to a mere $100 fine. [Update: Nine additional co-sponsors have signed on.] Under current law, possessing as little as one joint is punishable by up to 90 days in jail. In Washington last year, 11,553 people were arrested on marijuana possession charges.

    But can it pass?

    This year seems an especially unlikely time for legislators to embrace liberal civil-liberty-lovin’ bills, considering the priority of bridging Washington's $6 billion budget gap. But the financial crunch may prove a paradoxical windfall. Sponsors and advocates behind the bill intend to capitalize on the bill’s savings.

    Representative Brendan Williams (D-22, Olympia), one of the bills co-sponsors, says he plans to "frame it in terms of the tradeoff in the budget discussion ... and set a square alternative." He says conservative legislators could be attracted to the cost-saving argument for decriminalization more than ever. "Do you choose to provide health care for x number of children or fund criminalizing marijuana possession?" he asks. For example, Williams cites a cost analysis of pot busts taken from Washington State Institute for Public Policy data that shows, based on the number of arrests in 2007, Washington would save $7.5 million by passing the law.

    Although the bill may seem too controversial to pass this year, Alison Holcomb, director of the ACLU of Washington’s Drug Policy Project, says public opinion is on the bill’s side. A recent poll shows 81 percent of Washington voters believe pot laws aren’t working. "I think that the bill is an improvement Washington voters are ready to see," she says. Massachusetts voters passed a nearly identical measure in November by a 30-point margin — and the lack of pot-induced hysteria in Massachusetts may provide evidence that the hackneyed reefer-madness claims about marijuana reforms are unfounded.

    The bill would apply to adults in possession of 40 grams or less of pot; penalties for minors would remain unchanged.

    Nonetheless, the bill is a lefty longshot, Williams acknowledges. "Cal Anderson used to be a voice in the wilderness on gay civil-rights issues," he says. "You just keep plugging away and people start thinking in terms of the change."

    The bill's prime sponsor is representative Dave Upthegrove (D-33, south King County). State senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36, Queen Anne) says she will introduce a mirror bill in the state senate within a week.

    Dominic Holden
    January 14, 2009
    The Stranger (Seattle, WA)

    Share This Article


  1. chillinwill
    Some lawmakers want to lessen the penalty for having small amounts of marijuana.

    The Legislature is considering a measure that would effectively decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug and prevent officers from making an arrest in those instances. Instead, a $100 ticket would be issued for 1.4 ounces or less.

    The bill had a hearing today in the Senate's Judiciary Committee. It is sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle.

    Civil liberties groups say they support the measure. They say law enforcement officers should focus on serious crimes like burglary instead of punishing marijuana smokers.

    Anti-drug advocates say marijuana is a gateway drug that can lead users to more serious drug abuse in the future.

    Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009
    Tricity Herald
  2. Makesmartchoices

    What else could we spend $42 billion each year on? Health insurance for kids? Better paid teachers? It's our choice.
    What would you buy if you had an extra $42 billion to spend every year? What might our government buy if it suddenly had that much money dropped onto its lap every year?
    For one thing, it might pay for the entire $7 billion annual increase in the State Children's Health Insurance Program that President Bush is threatening to veto because of its cost -- and there'd still be $35 billion left over.
    Or perhaps you'd hire 880,000 schoolteachers at the average U.S. teacher salary of $47,602 per year.
    Or give every one of our current teachers a 30 percent raise ( at a cost of $15 billion, according to the American Federation of Teachers ) and use what's left to take a $27 billion whack out of the federal deficit.
    Or use all $42 billion for a massive tax cut that would put an extra $140 in the pockets of every person in the country -- $560 for a family of four.

    The mind reels at the ways such a massive sum of money could be put to use.

    Why $42 billion? Because that's what our current marijuana laws cost American taxpayers each year, according to a new study by researcher Jon Gettman, Ph.D. -- $10.7 billion in direct law enforcement costs, and $31.1 billion in lost tax revenues. And that may be an underestimate, at least on the law enforcement side, since Gettman made his calculations before the FBI released its latest arrest statistics in late September. The new FBI stats show an all-time record 829,627 marijuana arrests in 2006, 43,000 more than in 2005.
    That's like arresting every man, woman and child in the state of North Dakota plus every man, woman, and child in Des Moines, Iowa on marijuana charges ... every year. Arrests for marijuana possession -- not sales or trafficking, just possession -- totaled 738,916. By comparison, there were 611,523 arrests last year for all violent crimes combined.
    Basing his calculations mainly on U.S. government statistics, Gettman concludes that marijuana in the U.S. is a $113 billion dollar business. That's a huge chunk of economic activity that is unregulated and untaxed because it's almost entirely off the books.
    Of course, the cost of our marijuana laws goes far beyond lost tax revenues and money spent on law enforcement. By consigning a very popular product -- one that's been used by about 100 million Americans, according to government surveys -- to the criminal underground, we've effectively cut legitimate businesspeople out of the market and handed a monopoly to criminals and gangs.
    Strangely, government officials love to warn us that some unsavory characters profit off of marijuana sales, while ignoring the obvious: Our prohibitionist laws handed them the marijuana business in the first place, effectively giving marijuana dealers a $113 billion free ride.
    All this might make some sense if marijuana were so terribly dangerous that it needed to be banned at all costs, but science long ago came to precisely the opposite conclusion. Compared to alcohol, for example, marijuana is astonishingly safe. For one thing, marijuana is much less addictive than alcohol, with just nine percent of users becoming dependent, as opposed to 15 percent for booze. And marijuana is much less toxic. Heavy drinking is well-documented to damage the brain and liver, and to increase the risk of many types of cancer. Marijuana, on the other hand, has never caused a medically documented overdose death, and scientists are still debating whether even heavy marijuana use causes any permanent harm at all. And then there's violence. Again, the scientific findings are overwhelming: Booze incites violence and aggression; marijuana doesn't.

    Despite all that, we now arrest one American every 38 seconds on marijuana charges. And we do so at a staggering cost in law enforcement expenses, lost tax revenues, and staggering profits for criminal gangs
To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!